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A Denney for Your Thoughts – It’s time for working the election

By Connie Denney

If “working the election” causes visions of candidates asking for votes while being careful not to cross boundaries at polling places, rethink that—at least for the purposes of this column. Think, instead, of work behind the scenes AND at the scenes.

As this is published Wednesday, Aug. 1, it is Election Day eve. (The notice of the state/federal primary and county general elections Aug. 2 with an image of the official ballot was published in the Wednesday, July 25, edition of this newspaper.) Sarah Bailey, who has served as the county’s administrator of elections since November 2005, anticipates the turnout to be similar to the May primary, around 30 percent. She’s looking forward, though, to a much higher turnout in November, when voters will elect a governor and senator, as well as aldermen for both of our county’s incorporated municipalities.

But, back to tomorrow. Much of the preparation has already been done. Still it will be a long day for folks working the election. With Sarah and Teresa McFadden, deputy administrator since 2001, being the only regular full-time Unicoi County Election Commission employees, other people are appointed to work as early voting deputies, nursing home deputies and Election Day poll workers. 

Tomorrow around 70 poll workers will man Unicoi County’s eight polling places, Flag Pond, Love Chapel, Rock Creek, Unicoi, Temple Hill, High School, Fishery and Limestone Cove. But they won’t just walk in to begin greeting voters as they arrive. They have job descriptions and training—hey, there’s an official handbook. They are required to arrive by 7 a.m. (the Election Commission Office on Nolichucky Avenue will be open even earlier.)

Before polls open at 8 a.m., workers are sworn in and the work spaces organized. It is serious business, of course. The fact that many of the workers have served during multiple elections, along with the training and calling the office when necessary, helps keep things running smoothly. There are, of course, chores to be done after polls close at 8 p.m. It’s all in the handbook! (Anyone interested in working elections may drop by the office for more information.)

I know from personal experience that camaraderie develops and that a practice of bringing and sharing food has contributed to this great side benefit. Someone may bring a certain dish because it was well-liked before. A recipe may be requested. Wondering if this Election Day feast culture evolved because workers cannot leave polling places, I asked Sarah, who said she believed so, adding that some “have really gone above and beyond to create quite a spread!

She also shared her thinking on the serious side of what it’s all about: “Personally, I’ve been registered to vote since I turned 18 and have many memories of voting alongside my parents within the curtained booths of the mechanical lever machines. Voting is one of our most valuable privileges as citizens and one we should never take for granted. It is the best way that we the people can choose leadership and enact change in our communities, states and at the national level.”

Well said.